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September 04, 2002

Lefty Rich States-Righty Poor States?

Christopher Caldwell is an often interesting contrarian conservative (in the true sense) at the New York Press. In a column, he analyzes why the Gore "blue states", seemingly despite greater average wealth than often poorer Bush "blue states", keep supporting tax and spend politicians. Here is his analysis in the context of gentrification of old blue collar neighborhoods:

People ask why it is that rich states tend to be more liberal than poor ones. Massachusetts, which is always among the richest handful of states, tends to like tax-and-spenders, while dirt-poor Mississippians are suckers for politicians who will "let you keep more of your own money." (All 62 bucks%u2019 worth!) ... How can this be? Are people in Massachusetts stupid? No. People in Massachusetts are perfectly logical. The most treasured commodity in these parts is oceanfront property--which happens to be the commodity that academic economists use to illustrate "superstar economies" like ours, typified by widening gaps between rich and poor.

If the commodity under discussion is an extremely limited, non-mass-producible one, like oceanfront property (or healthcare, but we can leave that discussion for another time), then our economy works in such a way that a rising tide (to abuse a nautical metaphor) does not lift all boats. The number of dollars in your pocket or in your bank account is not what matters –not unless you’re hell-bent on accumulating crap. What matters is your position relative to the guy who wants to bid against you for the house one street closer to the ocean.

In this economy, yes, the rich are now worth 10 times as much as they were 10 years ago and the upper-middle class are worth twice as much. And this does not mean a vastly better life for the former and a considerably better life for the latter. Wrong. It still means a lot more for the rich, of course. But for the middle and upper-middle classes, it means getting bumped out of places like Osterville, MA, or Half Moon Bay, CA, or Everett, WA–and into places like Chandler, AZ, or Arlington, TX, or Gaithersburg, MD.

Posted by Nathan at September 4, 2002 10:51 PM

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